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South Whidbey School Board tackles timeline for bond measure

When all is said and done, it is the South Whidbey School District’s board of directors who will make the final decision on the consolidation of South End schools.

The next step in the process is at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the elementary school as the board deliberates the latest recommendations from District Superintendent Fred McCarthy.

Last week, McCarthy asked the board to hold off on a proposed May 18 bond measure that would help pay for the move of Langley Middle School students to the high school campus. He said three dates in August, November and February would give the school district more time to examine the issues and make the right choice.

A presentation tonight by a representative of the district’s bond company, Martin Nelson & Company, will put possible election dates in perspective.

School board member Fred O’Neal said there are several opinions on the timing among his fellow board members.

“I think we’re in different places on that,” O’Neal said.

He added that the longer the board waits to put the bond before voters, the harder it will be to make the changes at the high school to meet the 2012 date for consolidation with the middle school.

“Too soon, and we won’t have the time for both the due diligence needed and the chance to explain to voters what we we’re doing and, more importantly, why,” he said.

O’Neal favors the August or November dates, but expects the timing of the measure to be a major discussion point during tonight’s meeting.

District officials have said a bond measure is needed to help pay for the consolidation effort and to fund vital upgrades in district schools.

Earlier cost estimates ranged from $25.7 million to $32.7 million, depending on the extent of the items included in the consolidation effort and upgrade to other schools. But McCarthy’s final number came in at just under $13 million.

The pared-down list of upgrades to the high includes a new science room, a courtyard, field turf on Waterman Field and separate school entrances for the middle school. Those upgrades total $2.2 million; the balance is composed of various earthquake upgrades and infrastructure improvements to all of the district’s schools, particularly $5 million for a new heating and ventilation system at the high school.

Items that didn’t make the cut include a new gym and athletic field house for middle school students, extra classrooms, an art studio, wood shop, covered tennis courts and other extras.

The cost to a taxpayer runs from 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value at $13 million, to 35 cents for a $20 million bond. The current $19.9 million bond that expires this year costs homeowners 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

A home worth $350,000 would be assessed roughly $80 per year at the 23 cent rate.

Other items on the table tonight include discussion of bell schedule proposals, whether the sixth-graders should be taught at the primary school instead of the high school, and details of McCarthy’s cost estimates.

Tonight’s workshop is the first chance board members have been able to discuss their views on McCarthy’s plan. The meeting is open to the public, but a public comment period is not part of the agenda.

“It will be more of a ‘fishbowl’ meeting for the public to observe our discussions and deliberations,” said Leigh Anderson, school board chairwoman.

That’s a reversal for Anderson, who had said at the board meeting on Feb. 10 that tonight’s meeting would include an opportunity for public comment.

The final vote will be taken at the regular meeting on Wednesday, March 24.

Meanwhile, those who disagree with the board’s decision to close the middle school are asking the community to see what, in their view, the district will lose.

A “walkabout” open house is being hosted by the school’s PTA, from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 11.

“We have invited the school board and all of the parents from South Whidbey Elementary School,” said organizers Kelly Henriot and Sherry Joyner. “We would love to have the community come and visit this awesome campus.”

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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